Music for the soul

Published by adviser, Author: Courtney Tietje - Assistant Campus Life Editor, Date: November 30, 2012

Recent advances in therapeutic technologies and practices are greatly impacting the world around us, particularly when it comes to the emerging area of Music Therapy, according to senior music therapy major and president of the music therapy club Ashley Taylor, 21.

“It’s definitely emerging a lot more,” she said, referring to the newer form of therapy. “We just celebrated our 60th anniversary in 2012, so we became an official profession in 1950.”
According to Taylor, put simply, music therapy is using music to achieve non-musical goals.

For example, a music therapist may work with clients with autism, and, in order to encourage social interaction, would use songs and improvisation experiences. Or, working with a client in a hospital or youth detention setting may require using improvisation or song writing to allow expression of emotion—whether it be anger, bitterness, sadness, or anything else.

Dr. Susan Hadley, director of the music therapy program at SRU, explained the program in a different way and gives an example.

“What music therapists learn is how to use musical experiences with people with a variety of different needs, whether it’s educational, medical, behavioral, or emotional needs, to help them lead a more healthy life,” Hadley said. “Let’s say somebody had trouble speaking. We learn techniques to help people either learn language or speak better, or if they’re having trouble with physical abilities, we might use music to motivate them to do different kinds of movements.”
According to Hadley, music is an effective medium for therapeutic purposes because it is a universal element.

“It’s something that people naturally go to in so many different cultures for healing and comfort and motivation,” she said.

Dr. Sue Shuttleworth founded the music therapy program at Slippery Rock in 1977, according to music therapy professor Dr. Nicole Hahna.

“This is our 35th year,” Hahna said. “Our music therapy program here is very well established. It’s very student-centered and very music-centered. We have a lot of courses where the students get to re-develop their music skills. The students get a chance to really use those music skills everyday hopefully, but at least once a week with a client. So I think one of our strengths is how experiential our teaching model is here. Students can learn about music therapy and practice it all at the same time and under the supervision of a board-certified music therapist.”

Taylor, who has already spent significant hours in the field with clients, explained that each music therapy student is required to complete multiple clinical experiences.

“We start our clinicals as sophomores,” she said. “We have a different placement each semester, so for five semesters in school, and then you need to do one over the summer, so we get to work with six different populations by the time that we graduate, which is really, really nice. You get to test out what you like and what you maybe don’t like as much or what you’re good at.”

In addition, a new on-campus clinic allows more students to work directly with clients, developing their own music therapies for each and implementing them with individual or group clients.

The room, used as a classroom during the day, is full of tools, like sound recording devices and cameras that allow students to video tape and re-watch their sessions, an observation room, and a closet full of instruments.

As part in celebrating 35 years of music therapy on campus, the music therapy department is hosting its first ever Music Therapy Advocate week.

“AMTA is the American Music Therapy Association,” said Dr. Hahna “And part of the mission of AMTA has been to promote or advocate for music therapy so all the schools in this particular region –in the mid-Atlantic region have been given the encouragement to start music therapy weeks at each of our schools, so this is the same week all of our schools in the region are doing it. We’re calling it Rock Across the Region.”

Taylor explained that as part of the Music Therapy Advocate week, a guitar workshop was hosted on Thursday. Friday, from 6-8 p.m., a drum circle will be hosted at Swope, and on Sunday at 4 p.m., the music therapy annual benefit concert will take place in Swope performance hall.

Taylor, like many others in the emerging occupation, enjoys music, but says that her clients are her favorite part of her job.

“We never really walk into a session by ourselves,” she said. “We always have music there to be our co-therapist. You have something nobody else can offer – psychologists or psychiatrists or a nurse. All of those people can help your client, of course, but sometimes there are things that you can’t put into words or things that a client might not even have the ability to make words to say, and we have a way that they can manage to do that.”


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